New legislative session kicks off with a bang -- several education bills on the table

It’s been a while since Gadfly buzzed about legislative
hearings or new bills, what with the past legislature renowned for its inactivity.
But the new 129th General Assembly already has several education
bills in the works, so expect Gadfly to be reporting on capital matters over
the coming months.  

HB 21
Virtual charter schools, value-added
data, and Teach For America graduates.

Sponsored by Rep. Courtney Combs (R-Butler County), the bill is a recycled
version of last year’s HB 312 and SB 180 (legislation
aiming to make Ohio more competitive for Race to the Top funds, and for which
we testified
in support). While SB 180 was passed by the Senate, neither bill made it
anywhere in the House.  

The basic components of the legislation are well-intentioned,
but limited. HB 21 would:

  • Lift the
    ironclad moratorium on charter e-schools and replace it with a
    performance-based vetting process
    , which makes good policy sense. If a
    charter school authorizer wishes to open a new e-school, it must have a track
    record of authorizing success. Specifically, at least one of the charter
    schools it sponsors must be rated Continuous Improvement or higher. While this
    metric is imperfect (for example, if a sponsor has 10 schools rated D or F and
    only one rated C – that’s not exactly “successful”) it at least extends a  performance-based cap to e-schools similar to
    what applies to new bricks-and-mortar charter schools while also opening the
    market to new virtual providers. This is a good thing as this is one of most
    innovative and rapidly expanding sectors in public education.
  • Require
    the use of student performance data in evaluating teachers and principals for
    . For teachers in grades 4-8 and in reading and math, Ohio’s
    value-added data will be the primary growth measure; for other teachers, a
    “standardized measure of improvement in student achievement” will be
    “designated by the superintendent of public instruction.” While the sentiment
    behind this is right – teachers should be
    evaluated based on student growth – the bill also leaves in place many
    nonsensical requirements for various tiers of licensure, such as holding a
    master’s degree. Stipulations to require student growth metrics in teacher
    evaluations should be part of a fresh teacher evaluation overhaul bill. Keep in
    mind that the Republican-controlled legislature can push for bolder changes to
    teacher evaluations; lawmakers don’t need to stick with recycled legislative language
    from last session that, by virtue of Democratic control of the House, was palatable
    to both parties and therefore more vanilla.
  • Grant a
    professional educator license to alums of Teach For America
    - teachers
    who’ve successfully taught low-income students in another state (Ohio currently
    doesn’t have a TFA site) and would like to teach here. While the 129th
    General Assembly should go much further and actually change alternative
    licensure rules to pave the way for alternative talent pathways like TFA to
    take root in Ohio, this small provision to let alums teach here is an excellent
    way to retain talent in low-income areas as well as to battle the state’s brain

HB 30
School funding. Perhaps the
most-talked-about education bill so far, HB 30, sponsored by Rep. Randy Gardner
(R-Wood County), would eliminate significant requirements from HB 1 (Gov. Strickland’s
“evidence-based” funding model). Specifically, it abolishes of the School
Funding Advisory Council, as well as universal all-day kindergarten mandates,
requirements for school districts to create “family and civic engagement teams,”
and other reporting requirements. File this piece of legislation under both
“least surprising” and “most convenient to cash-strapped school districts.”
Despite the fact that many district leaders expressed support for these
components of the EBM in theory, they
were viewed as unfunded mandates, and nothing troubles school leaders more than
that ugly phrase.  

HB 36 – Calamity days. Co-sponsored by Reps. Casey Kozlowski  (R-Pierpont) and John Carey
(R-Wellston),  the bill would give back
two calamity days to Ohio schools districts while also granting schools more
authority to lengthen the school day to make up those missed days.  Although giving flexibility to districts and
schools to determine for themselves how to make up for lost time is commendable
(let’s see that kind of autonomy doled out elsewhere in K-12 education), upping
excusable calamity days from three to five would be a bad move. We’ve argued before
that Ohio’s students simply can’t afford lost instructional time; if anything,
the Buckeye State should be moving in the opposite
– to lengthen the instructional time available to students. No
one’s arguing that districts in the midst of a snowstorm can’t cancel school,
just that they should make up instructional time beyond three excused days.
Rep. Carey said that justifications for the bill included “safety
and financial concerns
” (Gongwer News;
subscription required) but excusing two extra calamity days does nothing to
save money, as teachers and principals are still paid for missed days. If anything,
it’s wasteful budgeting and lost learning opportunities for children.